If gold medals were awarded on heart alone, Lleyton Hewitt could envisage standing centre of the podium belting out the words to Advance Australia Fair after his effort against Novak Djokovic in third round Olympic singles action on Wednesday.
For the best part of two sets, the 31-year-old showed the second seed what took him to two Grand Slam singles crowns and the No.1 ranking while the Serb was still plying his trade in the juniors.
The gritty Aussie was ignoring anyone who dared suggest his best years had passed, riding the overwhelming support in his favour on Wimbledon’s Centre Court to take the first set 6-4.
The crucial break came with Djokovic serving at 4-4.
Hewitt – who needed an ITF wild card to compete in what will likely be his last Olympic Games – had a window of opportunity at 0-30 only to see a pair of aces whizz past.
An off-forehand winner landed him a first break point but he did not convert until five points later when a Djokovic sliced backhand found the net.
A love game – including an overhead winner, an ace and a vintage backhand down the line – landed Hewitt the first set after 40 minutes.
Looking to up the ante and shake the dogged Australian, Djokovic pressed at 4-3 in the second set, a big forehand down the line bringing up break point. He converted and serving for the second set, entered into a crafty cat-and-mouse rally before Hewitt ripped a backhand up the line to land a break point.
A passing shot would get Hewitt back on serve but three games later, Djokovic chose his moment to go for broke, breaking serve with winners off both wings to get back on level pegging at a set apiece, 7-5 after 45 minutes.
Relieved to have edged the second set, Djokovic was in no mood to enter into a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga-like marathon, whisking his way through the decider 6-1.
He will face the marathon Frenchman in the quarter-finals.